RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Victims of a decades-old forced sterilization program in North Carolina will have to wait on compensation because legislators did not include any money for them in a state budget deal, in part because Republican leaders could not agree on how to respond to the victims.
North Carolina was the first state in the country to tackle the question of how much to give victims of the program, which lasted from 1929 to 1974 and sterilized more than 7,600 people. The program was aimed at creating a better society by weeding out people who were deemed feeble-minded, many of them poor women.
The state House had agreed to provide $50,000 to victims who were alive as of March 1, 2010, but the effort faltered in the Senate. Many Republicans raised questions about the potential aggregate cost of providing $50,000 to each living victim and whether offering compensation would open the door to other groups of people to seek damages for previous misguided activities by the state.
"I think there's a very strong message from the Senate that they're not prepared to take it up this year," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, told reporters in announcing details of next year's proposed $20.2 billion budget agreement. The two chambers will vote on the compromise later this week before it goes to the governor.
Tillis spoke passionately for the compensation, taking the unusual step during floor debate earlier this month to turn over the proceedings to someone else so he could speak. He has said that a lack of compensation would be a personal failure on his part.
"It's something that I'll continue to work on," Tillis said.
The compensation also had the support of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.
One of the most outspoken victims, Elaine Riddick of Atlanta, said she was angry with the Senate. Riddick was 14 years old when she said she was raped and then sterilized after giving birth to a son.
"I have given North Carolina a chance to justify what they had wronged," she said, adding that she plans legal action on behalf of herself and other victims, including those who have died. "I gave them up until the last moment, but now I have no other choice. These people here don't care about these victims. … I will die before I let them get away with this."
State officials have estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims are still alive. They have verified 132 victims, of whom 118 are living.
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.